Publishers who want to sell their magazine and newspaper apps to smartphone and tablet owners haven't been that thrilled with Apple's prudish ways. The iTunes store, which typically takes a 30 percent cut on sales, doesn't make it as easy for publishers to sell subscriptions, use their own payment systems, or get data about the buyers who download their app. In order to promote its own digital newsstand, however, Google might be willing to do what Apple isn't, possibly at a reduced price. Distribution slut! Although the e-newsstand hasn't been confirmed, sources told the Journal that Google has been promising execs from Time Inc., Condé Nast, and Hearst Corp. that it would be willing to take less than a 30 percent cut, give out personal data, and help publishers collect payments all for mobile devices that use its Android system. To stay competitive, Apple is rumored to have some changes in the works, including making it easier to sell subscriptions with discounts for long-term commitments and sharing data, if a user gives permission — both terms that have held media companies back from investing too heavily in apps. Right now, for example, iPad-only subscriptions (as opposed to one price that would get you print, smartphone, and tablet copies) can be sold only through iTunes, and Apple plans to keep it that way.
For consumers, the choice about whether you buy your Economist app from Apple, Google, or even Amazon is still a matter of which device you own. But with today's announcement that Vizio, the maker of affordable flat-screen TVs, will be releasing its own tablet and smartphone, the already-growing number of Android devices just increased.
Although the Journal's sources don't detail what the upside for Google is, big media companies could lend its "notoriously messy" App Market more legitimacy. In the past, Google has also lured in companies to its services for free in order to make up the cost in advertising. In this case, that could be through AdMob, the mobile advertising platform Google acquired in 2009 for $750 million.